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How mammograms can help detect heart disease

Article Author: Juice Staff

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Woman holding a heart

Mammograms are known for detecting breast cancer, but new research revealed another benefit of these screenings: spotting calcium buildups within the arteries of the breast. This is significant because these calcifications, which show up as white areas on a mammogram, could lead to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

That was the case for the more than 5,000 postmenopausal women in a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association. Women who had calcium buildup were at a 51% higher risk for heart disease and stroke than those without.

What does this mean for the average patient getting a mammogram?

Amanda Kent, DO, section chief of Breast Imaging at MBB Radiology, said her team notes calcium buildup discovered on a mammogram and shares that information with the patient’s primary care provider. MBB Radiology provides radiology services for Baptist Health.

“The note gives the primary care provider the chance to more closely monitor the patient’s risk for heart disease and stroke, while looking out for other warning signs such as hypertension, or high blood pressure,” Dr. Kent said.

There is not yet a consistent standard nationwide for noting the calcifications, but the researchers who conducted the study are hoping that will change.

Cathryn Johnson, MD, breast surgical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, said it makes sense to take advantage of this additional knowledge mammograms can provide.

“It’s helpful information we get without having to put patients through additional screenings or radiation,” Dr. Johnson said.

Baptist Health provides the region's most comprehensive cardiovascular care. To learn more about prevention, diagnosis and treatment for heart and vascular conditions, visit baptistjax.com/heart or call 904.720.0799.

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